Opposition Protests In Crisis-Hit Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine - Opposition activists held anti-government protests across Ukraine on Friday, demanding the president and prime minister step down amid a worsening financial crisis.

Activists shout during a rally in central Kiev, Ukraine, demanding early elections amid a worsening financial crisis.

About 3,000 activists from the opposition Party of Regions waved blue flags on Kyiv's main square and chanted: "Crisis Stop!" and "Down with the Authorities!" Similar protests were held in a dozen other Ukrainian cities, the party said.

Although the rally in Kyiv was relatively small, it reflected growing discontent with the government's handling of the financial crisis. Analysts warn dissatisfaction could grow into mass protests and civil unrest later this year.

The leader of the Russian-leaning opposition party, Viktor Yanukovych, accused pro-western President Viktor Yushchenko and his 2004 Orange Revolution ally-turned-foe, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, of mishandling the crisis.

Analysts expect the Ukrainian economy to contract by at least six per cent this year. Industrial output has dropped nearly one-third as global demand has fallen and the national currency, the hryvna, has lost nearly half of its value.

"Everything they promised - they did just the opposite," Yanukovych told a cheering crowd.

"These authorities must resign - both the president and the government."

Ukraine is scheduled to hold presidential elections late this year or early next year but both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have recently said they want an early vote. The two are expected to be the top contenders in the race with about 17 and 15 per cent support respectively, recent polls indicate. Yushchenko's ratings have sunk to below five per cent.

Source: AP